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Immortal (2004)
Director: Enki Bilal

review by Jonathan McCalmont

It's not uncommon for big screen adaptations of books and comics to be criticised for their failure to really do the source material justice. For every Sin City that perfectly captures the lowbrow violence and misogyny of the original comics, there's a League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen that spectacularly urinates all over the hard work of the original creator. However, Immortal is not a film that will be able to hide behind this excuse as director Enki Bilal is also the creator of the original comics. So no excuses for messing it up then...

Horus the Egyptian god not only exists but also lives in a gigantic pyramid-shaped spaceship hovering above New York. Sentenced to death by his fellow gods, he is granted a few final days in the world of mortals and makes the most of them by tracking down a blue-skinned girl who is capable of bearing divine children thereby allowing Horus to live on through his offspring. The situation is complicated by the fact that Jill might or might not be an alien and that Horus is forced to use the body of Nikopol in order to impregnate Jill. Just as Jill and Nikopol begin to fall in love, an alien assassin turns up and the group are forced to flee to another dimension thanks to Jill's friend the mysterious John.

Based on Bilal's La Foire Aux Immortels and La Femme Piege, the first two parts of his 'Nikopol' trilogy, Immortal not only has to distil two quite densely plotted comics into 99 minutes of film, but it also has to deal with the fact that the original comics were not particularly coherent to begin with. Indeed, as a writer Bilal has never been overly concerned with plot or building a coherent world.

If the hard-SF novels of Greg Egan and Stephen Baxter form one polar extreme of the sci-fi continuum then the works of Enki Bilal arguably comprise their opposite. Bilal's style is similar to that of Moebius and Jodorowski's in their Incal and Caste Of The Metabarons books, the onus here is on visual impact and ideas are not so much placed in a coherent narrative or world as thrown together higgledy-piggledy in order to cause maximum cognitive dissonance. Surprisingly, this style transfers well to the screen and the result is a film as beautiful as it is puzzling.

With a design vaguely reminiscent of the art-deco elements in The Fifth Element, Immortal blends CGI and real actors in the most unusual manner resulting in the audience continually squinting at the screen and wondering which actors are CGIed and which are simply heavily made-up. From the spaceship of the Egyptian gods to frozen Central Park, Immortal shows a real visual flair and is at times stunning to look at. Sadly, the acting can't compete with the scenery as the beautiful Linda Hardy, and Tcheky Karyo look-a-like Thomas Kretschmann, struggle with their under-written roles and the film's lack of a clear narrative.

In many ways, Immortal surprised me because despite being poorly written and boasting few original ideas, it is genuinely difficult to dislike this film. Despite desperately needing a re-write, the weirdness and visual style of this film serve nicely to remind us all that there's more to science fiction than particle physics and the militarism of Stargate or Star Trek. Sometimes, as the work of Jodorowski has suggested, science fiction is just about being strange. Well worth a look.
Immortal

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